How well do students know Frederick Douglass? Do they know that he recruited troops to fight in the Civil War, including his sons Lewis and Charles?
When the war broke out Douglass, who had already escaped from slavery, was living in Massachusetts. He was very active in the abolitionist movement and traveled on the lecture circuit speaking out against slavery. He was also the publisher of the North Star, an antislavery newspaper.
Douglass saw the Civil War as a war to end slavery and believed that black men should be allowed to fight in the battle for their freedom. As the war progressed his speeches and newspaper editorials included calls for President Lincoln to grant slaves their freedom and to allow them to enlist in in the Union army. “A war undertaken and brazenly carried for the perpetual enslavement of the colored men, calls logically and loudly for the colored men to help suppress it”, said Douglass.
In 1863, after suffering defeats on the battlefield and a decrease in white volunteers, President Lincoln authorized the enlistment of black men in combat and asked states to begin recruitment of black men.
The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was the first black regiment formed after President Lincoln issued the call for black troops. The governor of Massachusetts asked Frederick Douglass to help recruit men for the unit. Douglass agreed and wrote an editorial for the local newspaper urging men to join the Union forces.
“Men of Color, To Arms! The case is before you. This is our golden opportunity. Let us accept it, and forever wipe out the dark reproaches unsparingly hurled against us by our enemies. Let us win for ourselves the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our posterity through all time.”
Douglass’ sons, Lewis and Charles were among the first to enlist.